Food

What We're Into: Congee, fresh-baked bread and tofu tacos

Another taste of congee

Are you tired of congee yet? Good, because you probably haven't tried the congee at Huo Zhou Wang, a new Hong Kong-style porridge specialist in the food court attached to the San Gabriel Hilton. Congee is a homey dish, something you can make with tap water and the dregs of last night's rice pot, but Huo Zhou Wang is kind of a swank place, with elaborate menus, lots of marble and rustic clay bowls.

What's more important are the tanks of live seafood in the rear — crabs, lobster, prawns and abalone for those times when you want to experience the kind of porridge a billionaire might fancy. The house special congee, spiked with dried scallops, large prawns and a handful of Manila clams, is just splendid enough, with a toasty flavor, tons of umami and the kind of slight chewiness you might expect from a well-executed seafood risotto in Venice. With the addition of an abalone — $19.95 at the moment — there is an extra jolt of salinity, of hidden depths. To season the congee, you use neither salt nor pepper but a sharp condiment made from fermented yellow beans. In last week's Food section, I wrote about seven of my favorite bowls of congee. Huo Zhou Wang's seafood congee might be better than them all.

— Jonathan Gold

Tofu tacos — yep, we're serious

If you've driven along La Brea Avenue near Olympic Boulevard in the last couple of weeks you may have noticed a big sign for Trejo's Tacos featuring the face of actor Danny Trejo, that cool guy from the "Machete" movies and "From Dusk Till Dawn." This is Trejo's new taco restaurant — a project from the actor, film producer Ash Shah and Jeff Georgino. Daniel Mattern (formerly of Cooks County) designed the menu. It's scheduled to soft open early next week, then officially open with expanded hours and an expanded menu the week after. One of the most exciting bites? The tofu tacos. Yes, the machete-wielding guy from all those action movies is serving tofu tacos. And they are inspired by none other than Yotam Ottolenghi's black pepper tofu. The fried squares of bean curd are buttery and rich, smothered in a tangy black pepper sauce, served on a fresh corn tortilla with pickled onions.

— Jenn Harris

Bread, one of life's small pleasures

The bread scene in Los Angeles has been taking off in odd ways — instead of giant, shiny new bakeries with rows of deck ovens, bakers in this town have been taking the DIY approach. Witness two of the newest bakeries, Lodge Bread in Culver City and Seed Bakery in Pasadena. These are tiny operations. At Lodge Bread, the 940-square-foot shop is built around a giant Bassanina steam-injection deck oven that takes up most of the space. Bakers and co-owners Or Amsalam and Alexander Phaneuf are making amazing loaves of high-hydration, darkly baked bread, dark brown discs that they stack on the shelves near the oven like history books. At Seed Bakery, Joseph Abrakjian uses natural levain and whole-grain flours, baking spelt boules and loaves of 100% rye adjacent to the few crowded counters. The breads — farro, einkorn, kamut — chalked on the board make the place sound more like a heritage seed bank than a boulangerie. The bread is spectacular, the crumb a network of flavors, the crust a real crust. Which, by the way, makes for excellent toast — which both bakeries have on their menus. We may live in the Era of Toast, but it means nothing without spectacular bread.

— Amy Scattergood

Market Report

It's a paradise for lovers of winter greens right now, especially with the cooler temperatures and all this rain. Look for colorful shades of chards, durable kales and delicate lettuces, as well as nettles and mustard greens. It's also high time for other brassicas — cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts — as well as sweet mandarins and other citrus. And don't forget beets and root vegetables, such as turnips and rutabagas.

What's just left: Winter squash is making its way out.

What's on the horizon: Snow peas.

What to cook: Now is the perfect time to make the simple Portuguese soup caldo verde. Combine onion and sausage (preferably Spanish chorizo) in a pot with a little oil, cooking until the sausage is browned and the onion softens, then stir in chicken broth, kale and potatoes. Simmer the stew until the potatoes are soft and the kale is tender. Break up some of the potatoes to thicken the soup if you'd like, and serve with a drizzle of olive oil.

— Noelle Carter

Ham it up at the bar

There's an Old-Fashioned cocktail, and then there's the In Fashioned, a drink on the menu at the Old Man Bar at Hatchet Hall in Culver City. The restaurant is known for its country ham plate, and the drink program makes full use of the menu's star ingredient. In the In Fashioned, a country ham-infused bourbon is mixed with a couple dashes of Redeye bitters and pecan bitters. The drink is garnished with a maraschino cherry that's been wrapped in a lemon peel, and a wafer-thin slice of country ham. The drink is much sweeter than an Old-Fashioned, balanced by a serious ninja kick from the meaty bourbon. Just consider this drink your first dinner course while you nibble bits of the luscious, salty ham with each sip. If a wine spritzer is more your speed (no one is judging), order the Grüner Coke. It's a mix of Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and grapefruit liqueur.

— Jenn Harris

Cookbook of the week

"The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen," by Jacques Pépin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.95). In honor of the French chef's 80th birthday, his memoir has just been republished, with a new foreword by Anthony Bourdain. It's a fantastic way to celebrate Pépin's career, which has continued unabated through years spent cooking for Charles de Gaulle, teaching us all how to cook with Julia Child on PBS, and writing cookbook after acclaimed cookbook. Pépin's beautifully written memoir takes us back to his childhood, when he began work as a 13-year-old apprentice at Le Grand Hotel de l'Europe in his hometown of Bourg-en-Bresse near Lyon. Pépin moved to Paris as a teenager, and before he came to the United States in 1959, he'd cooked at Maxim's in Paris, served in the French navy and been personal chef to three French heads of state. Pépin is as warm and engaging on paper as he is on screen, and his book provides not only stories but recipes and personal photographs that trace his many decades of cooking. It's a great read, as Pépin is endearing, candid and often remarkably funny. And if you get hungry while you turn the pages, you can always put the book down and make Pépin's recipe for cheese soufflé.

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